A movie where Rutger Hauer fights Gene Simmons directed by the guy who brought us Vice Squad? Sign me up!
When Gary Sherman's action thriller begins, a Hasidic Rabbi makes his way through the Los Angeles airport having recently arrived from the Middle East. He's picked up by a driver and, on the way home, he slits the drivers throat and makes his way off into the City Of Angels. This man isn't a Rabbi at all, but actually a Middle Eastern terrorist named Malak Al Rahim (Gene Simmons of KISS fame), a man with a penchant for explosives and a genuine love of blowing things up. We see this early on in the film when he makes his way into a theater showing Rambo (look for a cool vintage Suburbia poster in the background), killing everyone inside.
What Malak doesn't count on is Nick Randall (Rutger Hauer), a former Central Intelligence Agency operative who know makes a living for himself as a bounty hunter. When he's not saving Vietnamese shop owners from bad guys he's outsmarting cops, making time with his lady, Terry (Mel Harris) on his cool old boat and hanging out with his L.A.P.D. officer pal, Danny Quintz (William Russ). Nick's got a poofy blonde mullet and he lives in a giant warehouse where he gets to ride motorcycles and store his own personal arsenal. Truly, he's living the dream… he's even got his own full-sized NHL table hockey game, a TV and a sweet couch. The C.I.A., led by Philmore Walker (Benson himself, Robert Guillaume), are, quite understandably, upset about Al Rahim's crimes and when the explosions continue around the city and the body count rises, they enlist Randall's help in bringing him down. When Al Rahim gets word of this and makes things personal, Randall pulls out all the stops to see that justice is served.
Shot in 1986 and release by New World Pictures in January of 1987, Wanted: Dead Or Alive isn't a particularly original film. In fact, it's pretty formulaic. That said, it does what it does pretty effectively. The action scenes, which are the highlights of the film, are nicely staged. There are some cool car chases, some shoot outs, a few hand-to-hand bits, plenty of explosions. The movie delivers in this regard. The picture could have probably been trimmed of about fifteen to twenty minutes and been better for it as some of the more procedural bits actually drag the pace down a tad without really adding much in the way of background or character development like you'd expect, but all in all this is a solid if not wholly unique slice of eighties action nonsense. Al Rahim's motivations are never really made all that clear, he just dislikes America and wants to blow things up in L.A. to sew chaos, but that wasn't uncommon in action movies of the day. And don't try to think too much about what happens to all of the bad guys who aren't Al Rahim at the end of the movie or you'll give yourself a headache. But if you can look past the goofiness, stereotyping and plot holes, there's a lot of entertainment to be had here.
A big part of the film's success stems from the casting. William Russ is plenty likeable as Nick's pal and Mel Harris just as likeable as his lady love. Robert Guillaume is actually quite amusing as the man tasked with bringing in Al Rahim. Those who only know him as Benson might be taken aback by the amount of F-bombs that fly out of his mouth, but he's fun to watch in the part. The real stars are, however, Rutger Hauer and Gene Simmons. The latter is surprisingly good as the villain, playing his character, a genuine stereotype if ever there was one, quite well and never overdoing it (which would have been VERY easy to do with this part). Hauer makes a good foil for Simmons and manages to bring a little bit of depth and emotion to his role as the film's antihero. He looks good here, handling the action set pieces well, and while his accent slips through in a couple of spots, it's a good part for Hauer and he takes advantage of it.
Kino Lorber brings Wanted: Dead Or Alive to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Taken from a new 2k restoration of undeclared elements, the picture quality is good if never mind-blowing. There isn't much in the way of print damage at all, a few small white specks here and there but that's about it, no scratches or emulsion marks of any kind. Colors look quite good, they're reproduced naturally, and black levels are just fine. Detail is pretty solid but maybe a step or two away from reference quality. Some of this looks to be how the film was shot, rather than an issue with the transfer itself. There are no noticeable issues with noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression issues. Overall, the image looks quite good.
A DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track is provided in English with optional English subtitles provided. The levels are a little low but once you turn up the volume, the audio is fine. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the track is properly balanced. Dialogue stays clear and both the sound effects and the score sound quite good.
Extras start off with an audio commentary by Director Gary Sherman and Executive Producer Arthur M. Sarkissian. These guys are clearly having a good time reminiscing about the film, talking about the amount of hair in the film right from the start and then go on to talking about who did what on the picture, tying the film into their respective backgrounds, sharing some fun stories about working with Simmons, who wound up the movie pretty randomly, and Hauer and writing the script around the time of a director's strike. They talk about the stunts, locations, action set pieces, the score, and yeah, the hair, lots of talk about hair. It's a fun track, pretty informative as well.
Nuclear Winter is an interview with Gary Sherman that runs thirty-eight-minutes. He speaks about how he came to work on the picture after finishing Vice Squad, the movie's connection to the Steve McQueen TV series of the same name, how the original script needed a whole lot of work, his thoughts on the lead character in the film, the film's ending, his personal writing style and how he writes things with casting in mind, getting Hauer and Simmons in the film, the movie's social commentary and how he never wanted it to be seen as racist or anti-Muslim and more. It covers some of the same ground as the commentary track but has enough new info in it that it's definitely worth checking out. Sherman is a likeable and interesting interview subject. He tells some really fun stories in this piece
In Life Before ThirtySomething we get an interview with star Mel Harris that runs six-minutes. She talks here about how she got into acting, some of early parts and then landing the role she got in this picture. She speaks kindly about Hauer, who she describes as ‘amazing,' and how she looks back very positively on the time she spent making this picture. She talks about having to shoot certain scenes at night, what it was like on set, taking direction, and how she enjoyed working with Sherman and Simmons as well.
Aside from that, we get two trailers for the feature, a few bonus trailers (Black Moon Rising, Ffolkes, Flesh + Blood, Spetters and Lisa), menus and chapter selection.
Wanted: Dead Or Alive is about as formulaic as they come but Simmons, Hauer and an amusing supporting cast coupled with some nicely rendered action set pieces make this one worth checking out, particularly if you've got a soft spot for the big, dumb style of action movies that were so popular in the eighties. Kino has done a very nice job with the presentation and included a considerable amount of quality supplemental material on the disc. Recommended.